OPINION: Eviction moratoriums simply delay the inevitable, an exacerbated housing crisisThe Jefferson Park neighborhood near Atlanta's airport has the highest eviction rate in Fulton County, according to a new report from the Federal Reserve of Atlanta. Credit: David Pendered
By Sean Keenan
At the end of August, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms extended an executive order barring many residential evictions until at least Halloween. It was a helpful move, but far more help is needed to stem what’s almost certain to be mass displacement.
The order called on “governmental and quasi-governmental agencies” — Atlanta Housing, Atlanta Beltline, Inc., the Fulton County/City of Atlanta Land Bank Authority, Invest Atlanta, Partners for Home and the city’s Department of Grants and Community Development — to halt all eviction proceedings as the city grapples with an economy ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before that, the Magistrate Court of Fulton County announced it would delay all in-person hearings for landlord-tenant cases until at least November, affording renters at risk of eviction some breathing room to figure out their finances and attempt to avoid displacement.
And just days after Bottoms lengthened the lifespan of the moratorium, President Donald Trump issued an order of his own, suspending the possibility of eviction for millions of renters adversely impacted by the public health crisis until the end of the year — and, ahem, after the presidential election — according to The New York Times.
While these initiatives strive to keep people in their homes while they weather the storm of the novel coronavirus, the hard truth is that such efforts merely delay the inevitable, an exacerbated housing crisis.
As another New York Times report reminds us, “Congress has yet to adopt a new aid package that includes broad rent relief.” Nor has it ushered through any other substantial assistance programs of late, and expanded unemployment benefits expired weeks ago.
Trump’s order — plus those of Bottoms, Fulton County and a laundry list of other public officials — might keep people housed for a few more months, but most back rent isn’t going anywhere, and people in debt to their landlords could be in serious trouble when it comes time to pay up.
And, as Georgia State University urban studies professor Dan Immergluck pointed out on Twitter, it doesn’t help that Georgia doesn’t provide much in the way of COVID-19-related rental assistance programs. Most states do.
The Georgia Department of Community Affairs does offer Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) and Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act-funded assistance to help people making 50 percent or below the area median income from becoming homeless.
But finding a way to prevent countless Georgians from becoming homeless as courts begin again to process the eviction filings that have been stacking up for weeks hinges on a major expansion of rental assistance and relief programs.
This is why projects like the new Save Our Atlanta Residents (SOAR) program are so vital to combating the housing crisis, which has long gripped Atlanta and other major cities but is exacerbated by the public health crisis.
But the onus can’t just be on well-to-do community organizations; there must be more government help to keep people at home and, ideally, contributing to the economy. After all, when people have to make the tough choice of whether to pay rent or buy groceries, everyone loses.
Thankfully, the City of Atlanta, thanks to a partnership with United Way of Greater Atlanta, recently launched a multi-million-dollar rental assistance program that’s expected to protect upwards of 6,700 city residents from displacement.
Sadly, though, that program is only a drop in the bucket for Georgia, which faces an eviction crisis that some experts suggest could cost upwards of $91 million to fight in court. What Atlantans and Georgians need right now is more rental assistance help from the state and federal governments.
Kicking the can down the road with eviction moratoriums will only allow this already staggering problem to balloon into a far more dire crisis in the not-too-distant future.
(Header image, via David Pendered: The Jefferson Park neighborhood near Atlanta’s airport once had the highest eviction rate in Fulton County.)